Below is a timeline of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High from Our Presidents. The top photo was taken on September 4, 1957, the first day of school. Fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford (pictured) should have been part of a group of nine students, but at the last minute the NAACP delayed the integration because they believed the governor was going to bring in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent their enrollment. Elizabeth was the only one would didn’t get the message and showed up for school that day.
Elizabeth arrived to find an angry mob and no organized protection. Grace Lorch (pictured), a 50 something white member of the NAACP, dropped her daughter off at junior high that morning and stopped by the high school to see what was going on. Grace found Elizabeth on her own and escorted her to her mother’s workplace via a city bus.
Think for a second about what it must have been like to have been either of those women. Elizabeth was only 15 years old and a historic event rested on her bravery. One of six children, her mother taught in a segregated school for blind and deaf children while her father worked nights for the railroad. Either of them could have lost their jobs over her enrollment at Central High. Their house could have been firebombed, they could have been killed. All for going to school.
Grace was a serious social justice advocate, both she and her husband had lost jobs over their activism. That day she told the crowd they would be ashamed of themselves in six months and if anyone touched her she would punch them in the nose. Grace wasn’t an armed National Guard, but she was one tough lady.
In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to desegregate its public schools. When the school year was set to begin, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, formerly an all-white school, became a battle ground in the nation’s ongoing civil rights struggle.
Here, a timeline of those events in 1957:
September 2: Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus orders the state’s National Guard to surround the school and prevent the entry of the African-American students.
September 4: National Guardsmen bar the entry of the nine African-American students to Central High School.
September 20: Federal Judge Davies orders Governor Faubus to cease barring integration.
September 23: A crowd of about 1,000 people gather in front of the school. The nine students go inside through a side door. When the crowd learns the students are inside, mob riots break out and the students are taken out of the school through a side door.
September 24: Mob violence continues. President Eisenhower announces he is sending 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to uphold the law. He also federalized the 10,000-man Arkansas National Guard.
September 25: The students, who become known as The Little Rock Nine, are escorted by Army troops and admitted back into Central High.
June 3, 1958: Ernest Greene becomes the first African-American to graduate from Little Rock’s Central High School.
-more at the Presidential Timeline